Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train: A Novel by Paula Hawkins
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (January 13, 2015)

There are some books that one cannot put down until they are finished reading them.  The Girl on the Train is one of them.  For her debut novel, Paula Hawkins has written a page turner that very well could be the next Gone Girl.  As I spent the past week devouring page after page, I was imagining a movie playing in my head.  DreamWorks Pictures has already optioned the film rights.

If this book is not being heavily requested at libraries or bookstores, I'd be surprised since it is very impossible to put down.  I went into 2015 with The President's Shadow by Brad Meltzer as the book that I was most looking forward to.  There's still a chance that Meltzer's book wins the 2015 Solzy Award for Best Fiction Novel but Paula Hawkins' debut novel is going to give him a run for the money.  I say that with all seriousness, too.

With its dark themes of obsession, isolation, and loneliness, Hawkins gives us a book that will remind readers of the Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, most specifically Rear Window.  Our narrator, Rachel Watson, has secrets of her own as the plot zigs and zags through the 322 pages.  She rides the train every day and one day, she notices something is off.  From the moment she gets involved, readers are in for a heck of a ride.

With An unreliable narrator, an intricate plot, and a huge payoff of a surprise ending that NOBODY can see coming, the suspense grows by the minute.  Pages will turn fast.  Trust me.  I spent most of Shabbas reading rather than schmooze at the Shabbas table just to finish reading this book.

This may just be the thriller of the year.  You won't be able to put it down.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls: Strong Denunciation of Anti-Semitism

Following is a translation of the remarks on antisemitism delivered by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls to the National Assembly on January 13, 2015:
…The first question that has to be clearly dealt with is the struggle against antisemitism. History has taught us that the awakening of antisemitism is the symptom of a crisis for democracy and of a crisis for the Republic. That is why we must respond with force. Since Ilan Halimi in 2006, after the crimes of Toulouse, antisemitic acts in France have grown to an intolerable degree. The words, the insults, the gestures, the shameful attacks, as we saw in Creteil a few weeks ago, which I mentioned here in the Chamber, and which did not not produce the national outrage that our Jewish compatriots expected. 

There is a huge level of concern, that fear which we felt at the HyperCacher at Porte de Vincennes and in the synagogue de la Victoire on Sunday night. How can we accept that in France, where the Jews were emancipated two centuries ago, but which was also where they were martyred 70 years ago, how can we accept that cries of  “death to the Jews” can be heard on the streets?  How can we accept these acts that I have just mentioned? How can we accept that French people can be murdered for being Jews? How can we accept that compatriots, or a Tunisian citizen whose father sent him to France so that he would be safe, is killed when he goes out to buy his bread for Shabbat  because he is Jewish? This is not acceptable and I say to the people in general who perhaps have not reacted sufficiently up to now, and to our Jewish compatriots, that this time it cannot be accepted, that we must stand up and say what’s really going on.

There is a historical antisemitism that goes back centuries, but there is also a new antsemitism that is born in our neighborhoods, coming through the internet, satellite dishes, against the backdrop of the loathing of the State of Israel, and which advocates hatred of the Jews and all the Jews. It has to be spelled out, the right words must be used to fight this unacceptable antisemitism.( …)

Without its Jews France would not be France, this is the message we have to communicate loud and clear. We haven’t done so. We haven’t shown enough outrage. How can we accept that in certain schools and colleges the Holocaust can’t be taught? How can we accept that when a child is asked  “Who is your enemy” the response is “the Jew?” When the Jews of France are attacked France is attacked, the conscience of humanity is attacked. Let us never forget it.

And to how to accept the indignity of a serial hater having a full house on Saturday night, when the country was mourning for what happened in Porte de Vincennes? Let us never pass over these matters in silence, and let justice be implacable with those who preach hate. And I say that emphatically here at the National Assembly.

And to finish my remarks, Ladies and Gentleman, when someone, a young man or woman, a citizen, has doubts and approaches me or the Minister of Education with the question: “But I don’t understand, how come you want to silence this comedian, and you put the Charlie Hebdo journalists up on a pedestal?” There is a fundamental difference – and this is the battle that we have to win, educating our young people – there is a fundamental difference between the freedom to be insolent – blasphemy is not a crime and never will be – there is a fundamental difference between that liberty and anti-Semitism, racism, excusing terrorism and Holocaust denial, which are crimes that the courts must punish with ever greater severity.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Book Review - Called Out but Safe: A Baseball Umpire's Journey

Called Out but Safe: A Baseball Umpire's Journey by Al Clark with Dan Schlossberg
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (May 1, 2014)

Al Clark worked as an umpire in more than 3,000 games for thirty years.  He was lucky enough to work two All-Star Games, seven playoff series, and two World Series.

Clark was the umpire behind the plate during a game in 1991 when there were three Jews all wishing each other a happy new year when Shawn Green stepped up to the plate and Jesse Levis was the catcher.  How many times has that happened in baseball history?

Al Clark provides an entertaining memoir.  He shares his stories of managers Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, and Dick Williams.  Some of these folks were not friendly to the umpires.  Clark tells of how he tore his hamstring while ejecting a player or manager (I meant to put this review up a while ago after I read the book).  Heck, he even ejected his own father, a sportswriter who made his way into the dressing room.

It was Clark who was there for Nolan Ryan's 300th win, Cal Ripken's 2131st game, and the "earthquake" World Series of 1989.  He shares stories from all these games and many more.

Clark opens up about the scandal he was embroiled in.  This is what led to his retirement from baseball.  Had he realized what he was doing was wrong, he would have never done it.

Outspoken and hilarious, Clark's book provides the rare opportunity at what life is like for an umpire.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Book Review - The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter

The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter by Ian O'Connor
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (April 3, 2012)

The Captain is the definitive biography of future Hall of Fame member Derek Jeter.

This book is not an authorized biography in the sense that O'Connor sat down for hours at a time with the shortstop.  Instead, as one who covered the Yankees, O'Connor drew upon his prior interviews with Derek.  It's because of O'Connor's covering of the Yankees that he was able to draw on that unique access to The Captain.

With over 200 interviews, O'Connor is able to tell us how the biracial baseball player from Michigan started on his journey to become the shortstop of the New York Yankees.  The interesting thing?  Jeter was always telling people how he would be the future Yankees shortstop.  A funny thing happened on the way to the Bronx...

We go behind the scenes to when Jeter was struggling in the minors.  Despite being homesick and making an abundance of errors in the playing field, Jeter willed his way.  He had coaches and managers who served as mentors while he played in the minors.

It wouldn't be a Jeter book without discussing the whole rivalry with Alex Rodriguez.  Jeter has a one strike and you're out policy...of which Rodriguez broke the cardinal rule by talking bad about Jeter.

It may have looked easy for Jeter but it never was.  He worked hard to become the player he became.  He struggled along the way.

The paperback version of the book includes a new chapter on the chase for his 3,000th career hit--the first Yankees player ever to accomplish the milestone with the Yankees.  True, there have been other members of the 3,000 hit club that played for the Yankees like Wade Boggs and Dave Winfield but they didn't join the exclusive club with the Yankees.

When people talk about the definitive biography of Derek Jeter, they will be talking about Ian O'Connor's book for years to come.  It's an incisive, exhilarating, and revealing look at one of the best players in the game.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

2014 Solzy Awards

I started tweeting these the other day but here are the 2014 Solzy Awards.

Best Comedy Album: 2776: A Levinson Bros. and Rob Kutner Presentation

Best Musical Album: Jukebox the Ghost

Best Motion Picture Soundtrack (Tie): Begin Again: Music From and Inspired by the Original Motion PictureGuardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1

Best New Television Comedy (tie):
Broadcast: Marry Me
Cable: Sirens, Playing House

Best New Television Drama: The Flash

Best Breakout Star on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Jordan Klepper

Best Basketball Book: Players' First: Coaching from the Inside Out by John Calipari, Wildcat Memories: Inside Stories from Kentucky Basketball Greats by Doug Brunk, Fightin' Words: Kentucky vs. Louisville by Joe Cox and Ryan Clark

Best Sportswriting Memoir:  Scribe: My Life in Sports by Bob Ryan

Best Comedic Memoir (Tie): Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian by Bob Saget, Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Best Biography: Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History by Joseph Telushkin

Best Fiction Novel: Veronica Mars: An Original Mystery by Rob Thomas: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Most Anticipated Book of 2015 (Tie): The President's Shadow by Brad Meltzer; Lincoln and the Jews by Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapell

Best Kentucky Sportswriter: Larry Vaught

Best National Basketball Writer: Mike DeCourcy

Best Baseball Writer (Tie): Derrick Goold, Rick Hummel

Best Group of Sports Bloggers: United Cardinal Bloggers

Best Kentucky Broadcaster (Tie): Tom Leach, Bob Valvano

Most Annoying Person on Television...Period: Skip Bayless (ESPN)